By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
My good friend, Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda’s recent article in Colombo Telegraph has shown the total bankruptcy of the liberal bourgeois reading of the current political situation in Sri Lanka. His reading and reasoning are instrumental in the sense that it aims at proving that the January 8, 2015 agenda is the best available option for Sri Lanka. Following the old adage, “gilenna yana miniha piduru gaheth ellenawa” (a person who is going to drown will hang even into a straw), liberal bourgeois analysis tends to prescribe that the January 8, 2015 agenda be revitalized at the event of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory on April 4 over the no-confidence motion (NCM) moved by the Joint Opposition. Hence, Prof Uyangoda has once again raised their hopes and expectations that the January 8, 2015 agenda can be implemented in the next eighteen months if we cease this new opportunity. The no-confidence motion was defeated in the Parliament by 46 votes. All the MPs of the United National Front (UNF) voted against the NCM in spite of some signs of dissidents when the NVM was moved. The Tamil National Alliance, and the two Muslim Parties voted with the UNF ensuring the Prime Minister’s victory. One of the key partners of the January 8, 2015 movement, Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) voted for the NCM. In spite of the JVP decision to distance itself from the other actors of the January 8, 2015 movement, one may with some justification wonder that the defeat of the NCM has created once again a space to rekindle the principal items of its agenda.
There is no doubt that the defeat of the NCM has somewhat changed political configuration in the Parliamentary sphere of politics. Of course, the April 4 vote is a tactical victory for the Prime Minister. He has shown time and again that he has been capable of dampening the opposition to his leadership by using the UNP constitution and deviating the attention of his dissidents. Some of his dissidents may be promoted to positions in the Cabinet but the control of the party would remain basically intact. PM’s position within the UNP may get strengthened as the victory over the NCM has raised the self esteem of the UNP and its members vis-s-vis the SLFP, its governmental partner. Nonetheless, it is incorrect to come to a conclusion that this victory at the parliamentary sphere reflects change of political configuration at the mass politics level. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) experienced in the course of the NCM its third split since 2014. While the PM and the UNP wing of the so-called national government is able to get an upper hand in the Cabinet and the unity government in the next 18 months, the President Maithripala Sirisena’s position would get more and more weakened as a consequence of the NCM vote. If the 16 SLFP dissidents are forced to leave the Cabinet and the government, his position in the Cabinet equation would get further weakened and he will be reduced to de facto nominal executive his remaining constitutional powers notwithstanding. In my opinion, reflecting on his action and performance in the past three years, President Maithripala Sirisena deserves this dismal situation he is in today.
It is interesting to note that the liberal analysis assumes that these changes in political configuration in the Parliamentary arena would be conducive to quick implementation of constitutional reforms, legal actions against corruption, full adoption of human right resolution and substantive economic reforms. It appears that this view is also shared by the so-called international community (i.e Western powers) and the Colombo civil society. Although the PM’s victory is substantial, it was achieved at a reasonably high cost.
First and foremost, President’s previous disliking towards the PM would now turn into direct confrontation. This reminds us so-called co-habitation government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe of 2002- 2005. Of course, President Sirisena can do the same as the presidential powers were clipped by the 19th Amendment. Irrespective of the changes introduced in the 19th Amendment, President still can change the cabinet without getting the consent of the PM. In my opinion because of bad drafting of the 19th Amendment the President can remove the PM if s/he wants to do so. As the conduct of Maithripala Sirisena during the local government election campaign has demonstrated, he may not be hesitant to use his power to disrupt PM’s initiatives in many matters.
Secondly, the forthcoming Provincial Council elections would be another testing ground of the mass opinion. Contrary to the sphere of Parliamentary politics, the permutations and combinations are different in mass politics. For example, we have seen that the budgets of the so-called yahapalana government were passed by two-third majority, but in the sphere of mass politics they were totally rejected. February 10 local government election result is a reflection of how masses react, reflect and vote. So the heat of the PM’s victory may be cooled off in the forthcoming Provincial Council elections.
Thirdly, the promised changes in the UNP would not be an easy exercise. There are many contenders for cabinet positions. Can those aspirations be met within the constitutional limits imposed on the size of the cabinet? Party supporters may ask after the forthcoming Provincial Council election, the same old question: Can Ranil Wickremesinghe win the presidential election? So half-baked changes would postpone the inner crisis of the UNP, but would reemerge soon.
Fourthly, PM and the UNP might have given so many promises to individuals and parties to get their support at the NCM election. Support sometimes comes with a high price tag. It has been revealed that the TNA had voted against the NCM on the basis of 10 point agreement. Can the PM deliver them especially in the context that the government may no longer have two-third majority.
Finally, soon after his victory, the PM has emphasized that he would implement his ‘developmental’ program. Since 1977, the country has witnessed the adoption of neoliberal policies, but different regime had given its own coloring to neoliberalism. This is not a place to discuss them in detail, but some words may be relevant.
1. 1977- 1987: Neoliberalism with grant based heavy infra-structure development;
2. 1987- 1994: Neoliberalism with the emphasis on consumer and government sponsored job creation;
3. 1994- 2002: Neoliberalism with no any direction (a lost decade);
4. 2002- 2005: Neoliberalism with liberal piece and base don the unification of the home market;
5. 2005- 2015: Neoliberalism with the element of developmental state;
6. 2015- – : Neoliberal fundamentalism.
Although the every regime since 1977 have worked within the neoliberal framework, the regimes of 1977- 1987, 1987- 1994 and 2005- 2015 were careful and creative to give it some kind of national flavor. Neoliberal fundamentalism from 2015 has ruined the economy whatever the indicator one uses. The continuation of the same policies would generate mass discontent and mass protests and uprisings. The loss of two-thirds majority, the split of the SLFP and the continuation of neoliberal economic policies would in fact exacerbate the crisis.
The crisis Sri Lanka is facing today is not conjunctural but structural in character. Regime revision, and/or regime change will not be adequate to meet a crisis of this magnitude. So the present and continuing crisis give a space that should be used not to struggle for a January 8, 2015 agenda but to fight for a systemic transformation that none of the three main parties can offer.